Lifecourse-varying structural stigma, minority stress reactions and mental health among sexual minority male migrants

European Journal of Public Health | 19 May 2021
Authors: Arjan van der Star, Richard Bränström, John E Pachankis

Increasing evidence suggests that structural stigma (e.g. discriminatory laws, policies and population attitudes) can give rise to minority stress reactions (i.e. rejection sensitivity, internalized homophobia and identity concealment) to compromise sexual minorities’ mental health. Yet, many sexual minorities encounter divergent structural stigma climates over the life course, with potential implications for their experience of minority stress reactions and mental health. We take advantage of sexual minority male migrants’ lifecourse-varying exposures to structural stigma contexts to examine this possibility.

A sample of 247 sexual minority men who had migrated from 71 countries to the low-structural-stigma context of Sweden completed a survey regarding migration experiences, minority stress reactions and mental health. This survey was linked to objective indices of structural stigma present in these men’s countries of origin, diverse in terms of structural stigma.

Country-of-origin structural stigma was significantly associated with poor mental health and this association was mediated by rejection sensitivity and internalized homophobia, but only among those who arrived to Sweden at an older age and more recently.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of structural stigma can give rise to stressful cognitive, affective and behavioural coping patterns to jeopardize sexual minority men’s mental health; yet, these consequences of structural stigma may wane with increased duration of exposure to more supportive structural contexts.

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